Any time is a good time to remember Divinity: Original Sin. Almost one year after its initial release, the 2014 sleeper has abandoned its digital roots and is now hitting retail in the form of a physical edition. Pillars of Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera will be released in 2015 as well, so Divinity is the perfect appetiser for a year in which PC role-playing games will look back to the 90s; the decade when Bioware and Black Isle revolutionised the scene with a handful of spectacular games.
Divinity: Original Sin had the difficult task of using the successful formula of yesteryear and adapting it for modern times. The market - as much as the players - is not the same today as it was twenty years ago. Gamers often demand fast-paced, graphically intensive games, but instead this title focuses on turning your PC screen into a window to a fantasy world, one where you must understand the importance of your decisions.
This is the core idea that you will encounter while playing this (incredibly long) game. In Divinity: Original Sin, the player has to make decisions all the time and then see the consequences of these decisions play out. We're not only talking about decisions regarding the story (you'll certainly find some of these), but also those relating to the sophisticated battle system developed by Larian Studios, one which tries to reflect all the logical possibilities that a fantasy world can offer.
This is something that is usually forgotten in games: everything happens for a reason and many things shouldn't be the way they are. If you think about it, it's not normal for enemies to disappear after being killed, or for a wolf to drop a magic sword when it falls in battle. Many of the actions that would go unnoticed in most RPGs are a fundamental part of the battle strategy in Divinity: Original Sin.
For example, if you come across a burning area and go into the fire, your characters will take damage, so in order to go through, you will need a mage to cast a rain spell. While this will put out the fire, for the first few seconds a thick, black cloud of smoke will cover the area and hide your enemies. Of course it can also help your party go unseen or set an ambush for a group of opponents. You might then choose not to cross but instead perform a ranged attack with an electric spell. Since your enemies are wet, electricity will very likely paralyse them, giving you an even greater tactical advantage.
The game is full of these kinds of little decisions. Poison clouds are useful for slowly ravaging your adversaries, but they can also heal you if you use specific combinations of abilities. You must be careful, though, because they are flammable and the explosion could also be fatal. You can pour oil to make enemies fall over (and then set the oil on fire), but these greasy areas can also help you prepare the battlefield, since enemies won't step on them voluntarily. This allows you to turn what used to be a wide, open area into something more like a deadly bottleneck.
It's not only about using the right spell in the right moment. You also need to read the battlefield, work out the distances and discover what the characters can do, as well as play with the AI and find out your enemies' strengths and weaknesses. An impossible battle can become an easy one just by changing a couple of factors. Because of all this, you will see the proud return of the F5 and F8 keys, two old friends of PC RPG players, since saving and loading will become the order of the day.
If you enjoy playing fast-paced action games, you might want to leave now. Divinity: Original Sin is a slow, thoughtful title with a focus on exploration. Each battle requires a unique approach and you'll need to pay attention to the details instead of hurrying. You need to take your time to walk around, talk to all the characters you come across, and discover secrets wherever possible.
It's also here that we can see one of the weak points of the game. Sometimes there's a little too much freedom, and you can feel abandoned, not knowing what to do because the instructions are vague at best. There's nothing wrong with long-form missions, but sometimes there is absolutely nothing that tells you where to go. For example, in the last part of the game, you have to go to some mines, but you aren't given any clue at all about their whereabouts. You know they are in a specific area, but the world is vast and you might run into powerful enemies that will halt your progress until you've upgraded your character a little more.
Aside from the little issues that trickle down from the game's approach to freedom and the focus on exploration, Divinity: Original Sin is a very solid, challenging title. Sometimes you'll take part in an interesting conversation, other times you'll have to solve a puzzle that requires your party to be divided, or you might even get stuck in a violent encounter that you'll have to try dozens of times until luck and/or an evolving strategy gets you through.
Divinity: Original Sin is an excellent choice if you love old-school RPGs. You might not enjoy it so much if you don't like having plenty of autonomy to find your way in the world (where subsequently you can get lost), or if you prefer to be shown the position of every single thing in the world. However, if you've been waiting for a game that offers a bit more freedom, then this is definitely worth a look. This is a game that gives much more than it takes, and it will definitely leave you asking for more.